Filmed over five years and in 25 countries, Samsara is a beautiful and sometimes disturbing documentary of the soul’s journey through birth, death and re-birth.
Bringing to the screen perhaps some of the most visually astounding images ever seen, Samsara cuts between huge, colour-filled locations, the morbid atmosphere of churches and cemeteries, and the kinetic bustle of urban living in an attempt to show the interconnectedness of the world.
Described by the director Ron Fricke as a ‘guided meditation’, the film delivers in both volume and scope. Accompanied by only soundtrack in place of conventional voiceover, this non-verbal documentary uses the image as its subject, expressing unexpected levels of emotion unshaped by any outside influence. This provides the viewer with a purely unique experience, with each interpretation as distinctive as any other. This effectively allows Samsara to strike on a purely personal level, drawing on a whole range of emotional sensations.
The soundtrack itself is a work of great skill and precision, working in great unison with the image but also contrasting with it at times to subvert the expectations of what is being seen.
Visually, the film conveys a clarity and purity of image that is close to perfection. Each image in constructed so beautifully that one cannot help but marvel at what is being seen. The continuous flow of Samsara pulls you into a world seemingly outside of your own. At times, this rhythm is interrupted by disturbing scenes of lifelessness, such as those with custom-made dolls or robotics designed to imitate humanity, or through frantic expression, with one scene concerning French artist Olivier de Sagazan delivering one of the most unsettling scenes of the film. It is at these points that the film is most effective, taking advantage of the enthralled state induced by the rest of the film to shock and unsettle.
These scenes are crucial in keeping the film balanced, as whilst it shows you more beauty than you could ever imagine, Samsara bravely chooses to show you images you perhaps wouldn’t want to picture in order to display the entirety of its subject: the continuation of life from all perspectives.
However, the majority of the film is simply joyful to watch, with the global scale clearly evident. Spectacles of both natural and human feats are displayed with precision and direction of the highest quality. Fricke’s skill with time-lapse photography in particular is a wonder in itself, with scenes of star fields and the movement of shadows on monuments and sand dunes creating some of the most visually inspiring and introspective images of the film.
Beautiful, hypnotic, disturbing, moving and visually an amazing achievement, Samsara is not a film, but an experience. The global scale brings to focus the connections that reach around the world, with the partnership of image and soundtrack leaving one with a profound feeling of both joy and sorrow. With the image as its focus, the film delivers a flawless continuation of magnificent detail. Truly not to be missed.
Best bit: The sand paintings of the Ladakh monks that provide the bookends to the film present one of the biggest, and most unexpected, emotional responses of the film.